Dave Cooper is a psychotherapist who is Head of Treatment at Serena House, a detox clinic in central London. Here, he explains his philosophy behind his therapy strategy for addictive behaviour.
The most effective way to treat addictions
In my opinion, the most effective way to treat addictions is to look not only at the person who has come to seek help but to also examine their upbringing and relationships. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘relational view’. Essentially, this refers to the role relationships play in the shaping of daily experiences and attempts to help people understand patterns appearing in the thoughts and feelings they have toward themselves. This means that practitioners aim to treat the issue focused on the relationships and social engagement of the client. The way we see ourselves in relationship to others is largely responsible for the building and construction of identity.
Looking at the role the family and its individual members is not a way of ‘blaming others’ or offering an excuse for a client’s behaviour or problems. Rather it is an approach that locates the issue ‘outside’ rather than ‘inside’ the client. Of course, it is necessary to include the latest research into the differences in the brain (the idea of addiction as a chemical imbalance) as well as encouraging personal responsibility, however for most people, the way we engage with others at work, friends and family (or don’t) can be a major factor in both the way we got into and the way we will get out of these difficulties.
A focused treatment for drugs and alcohol
Again, this is not to say that endless counselling sessions about our past behaviours are the answer. No, the treatment must be focused and involve the expertise of a specialist if we are not to waste a lot of time money and energy in our attempts to change. This approach is a significant move on from previous ideas that positioned the problem inside the self (the moral approach) or inside the mind (the medical approach) or inside the theology (the faith-based approach). This approach places the issue inside the relationship or, to put it another way, our way of relating.
Bonding gone wrong
We are ‘hard-wired’ to bond with each other at a deep level and there are many reasons why this may not happen well in life, but for the addicted person, there has been a shift towards bonding with inanimate or inert things such as drugs or alcohol, work or gambling. When the addiction becomes a serious issue, we can say that the client has ‘bonded at a deep level’ with something that is inappropriate.
Back in the world of the living
The relational treatment is based upon encouraging the client back into the world of the living and deepening the relationships with loved ones and others in their life. One of the many benefits of this treatment is that it is completely transparent and so the client is totally aware of what the issues are and how to practice the therapeutic aims. So, in this way we take an extremely complex issue and reconstruct it as a simple daily practice which can easily be implemented in everyday life.
Dave Cooper has been working in the field of addiction for over 30 years. He is former Head of Treatment at Serena House, a new detox clinic located in the centre of London.